Writing a reviewer report

Whether you recommend accepting or rejecting the manuscript, keep in mind that one of your goals is to help the authors improve this and future manuscripts—not to make them give up in despair. Avoid overly negative wording or personal comments, point out the main strengths of the manuscript as well as its weaknesses, and suggest specific ways to fix the problems you identify. Also, avoid making overly brief and direct comments, as these can give your report an unfriendly tone. Reviewers for most journals are anonymous, so if anonymity is important to you, avoid comments that could make your identity obvious to the authors.

If the editor sent specific instructions for the reviewer report, or a form to fill out as part of the review, you should write your report in the requested format. If you received no specific instructions, the reviewer report should be divided into two parts:

  1. comments to be read only by the editor, and
  2. comments to be read by both the editor and the authors.

Comments for only the editor:

In this section, give the editor your recommendation for the manuscript and, more importantly, your reasons behind it. These usually have to do with the manuscript’s scientific soundness, novelty, quality, importance, and suitability for the journal. Editors take many factors into consideration when deciding whether a paper is right for their journal so providing evidence or reasoning for your recommendation is extremely helpful.

TIP: Recommendations are usually one of the following: accept manuscript in its current form, publish with minor changes, publish only if major improvements are made, or to reject the paper.

Comments for both the editor and authors:

In this section, write a detailed report reviewing the different parts of the manuscript. Start with the short summary of the manuscript you wrote after your first reading. Then, in a numbered list, explain each of the issues you found that need to be addressed. Divide the list into two sections: major issues and minor issues. First, write about the major issues, including problems with the study’s method or analysis. Next, write about the minor issues, which might include tables or figures that are difficult to read, parts that need more explanation, and suggestions to delete unnecessary text. If you think the English language of the manuscript is not suitable for publication, try to give specific examples so that the authors know what and how to address the problems.
Be as specific as you can about the manuscript’s weaknesses and how to address them. If the manuscript has line numbers, include the page and line number(s) specific to the part of the study you are discussing. This will help both the authors and the editor, who may later need to judge if the authors have fixed the problems in their revised manuscript. For example, instead of, “The explanation of the proposed mechanism is not clear.” You might write, “The explanation of the proposed mechanism should be more detailed. Consider referring to the work of Li and Smith, et al. (2008) and Stein and Burdak, et al. (2010).

Keep in mind that the authors – and even the editor – may not be native English speakers. Read over your comments after you finish writing them to check that you’ve used clear, simple wording, and that the reasons for your proposed changes are clear.